Monthly Archives: April 2008

The new 60 mph Gorst speed limit goes both ways

The in basket: Last year, when the state raised the speed limit on Highway 16 between Gorst and Tremont Avenue, I was surprised to see they made it 60 mph in both directions.
A state spokesman had said earlier that it would be raised only southbound, which struck me as a good idea. Northbound, the highway has an S-curve, crosses a narrow bridge over Highway 166 and the speed limit drops to 40 mph at Gorst. Since most traffic was doing 60 or better there when the speed limit was 50 mph, I thought 50 mph northbound was appropriate.
Another surprising change was beginning the southbound 60 mph zone back in Gorst, rather than after a driver passes Anderson Hill Road, an on-grade intersection.
I asked why they went beyond increasing the southbound limit south of Anderson Hill Road.
The out basket: Steve Bennett, an engineer with the state Olympic Region, which includes our area, says, “As you know, speed limits are based on the actual vehicle speeds through the corridor.  While it may seem counter-intuitive to set speed limits based on the actual vehicle speeds, this method, called the “85 percentile method” makes for the safest roadway and has become the national standard for the setting of speed limits. 
 “This 85th percentile speed is the speed at which, or below which, 85 per cent of drivers are traveling.  It is based upon national roadway studies which have shown that the majority of drivers travel at a speed they believe to be reasonable and prudent, and setting the speed limit accordingly actually results in the fewest accidents. 
“An artificially low speed limit is ignored by the great majority of drivers and may provide a false sense of security for someone who actually expects drivers to travel at the lower speed. 
“The risk of accidents increases when a few law-abiding motorists travel at the lower posted speed and the majority of drivers come up behind them at a rate of speed they believe to be safe and prudent.  Unexpected swerves, skids, or unsafe passing maneuvers, and hence more accidents, are the result
South of Gorst, he said, “We conducted speed studies in both directions and found that 60 miles per hour was a closer fit to the speed of existing traffic. We will be watching the area and we can make adjustments if needed.”

One end of Hood Canal Bridge is unlighted

The in basket: Gil Berg lives at Bridgehaven, just south of Shine in Jefferson County and looks out at the Hood Canal Bridge. He asks why the entire bridge has street lights except for the last quarter mile before its Jefferson County end.
The out basket: Becky Logan, spokesman for the project to replace half the bridge, has this to say.
“Firstly, there are no laws which require lights on any bridges in Washington state.  According to the Design Manual on Illumination, “illumination is provided along highways, in parking lots, and at other facilities to enhance the visual perception of conditions or features that require additional motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian alertness during the hours of darkness.”
“Because of the barrier gates on the bridge, bridge lights are needed so motorists can see when the gates open and close,” she said. 
 “The first light on the east half of the bridge is 620 feet from the east truss,” meaning the steel structure that stretches from shore to the pontoons.  On the west half the first light is approximately 1,700 feet from the west truss.  The difference is because the west half of the bridge is longer than the east half, she said.  Therefore, the barrier gates are closer to the east truss, which is why the lights appear to begin sooner.” 
Chris Keegan, the Olympic Region bridge expert for the state, added that they don’t usually put lights on rural bridges.
“If you are driving in the dark and come across some lights, you have trouble seeing when you go back into the dark,” he said.
He said that the need for the bridge span operator to see cars approaching the barricades is another reason that this rural bridge has some lights.

Drivers licenses of the dead

The in basket: Peggy Warren of Manchester said the other day that she had never notified the state of her mother’s recent passing so that her drivers license no longer was in effect. She wondered if that is something the state expects the family of a deceased person to do.
The out basket: Brad Benfield of the Department of Licensing says, “Family members are not required to notify DOL of the death of a loved one.
“We do sometimes receive these types of notifications about driver
licenses and we can take action if the family provides a copy of the
death certificate. This most commonly occurs when a family member
receives correspondence from DOL addressed to the deceased family
member.
“Our driver license records are most often updated based on
reports of deaths received by the Department of Health. When we receive these reports, the appropriate records are marked and then purged.”

Mystery stretch for Gorst speed limits

The in basket: Bob Edwards of Manchester wonders what the speed limit is on Highway 16 heading into Gorst between its merge with Highway 166 coming out of Port Orchard and the start of the 40 mph zone in Gorst.
Cars coming into Gorst on Highway 16 have a 60 mph speed limit, but those coming in from Port Orchard in the inside lane at the merge have had to obey 45 mph speed limit signs.
How is a newcomer to the area to know that the speed limit has increased if, in fact, it has increased for those coming out of Port Orchard, he asked.
The out basket: State Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton detachment says, “Once a person merges onto SR-16, the speed limit would become 60 mph
regardless of which lane you are in.
“I was not aware there was not a speed limit sign once SR-166 merges with SR-16,” she added. “With no sign indicating the speed limit increase, a newcomer would have no way to know that the speed limit had increased to 60.”
She contacted the state transportation department about what might be done to correct the problem. Steve Bennett, one of the state traffic engineers, says they’ll give drivers a hint by moving the “Reduced Speed Ahead” sign warning of the 40 mph zone in Gorst another 600 feet toward Port Orchard and posting it on both sides of the westbound lanes. The 40 zone itself will not change, though. “We think it would be a good idea to begin slowing traffic before they round the curve into Gorst,” he said.
Back in February, Nelson Lanchester observed that the customary warning sign of an impending speed limit reduction is missing for those going the opposite direction, from Gorst into Port Orchard. The 60 mph zone that just started a few thousand feet back drops to 45 mph without warning when one enters Highway 166. Steve said they will address that with a “Ramp Speed 45” sign in lieu of the normal reduced speed ahead sign.

No quick fix at Illahee Road washout site

The in basket: Bryan Garinger says, “I am wondering what is going on with the Illahee version of the Grand Canyon located on Illahee Road past Varsity Lane? The last I heard from the county road crew is they are waiting for permits from the state. It is now just about five months since the damage was done with a promise by everyone including the governor to get this fixed within six months.
“I’m hearing rumors it might actually be over a year before it’s fixed. Why can’t this get expedited so that the residents living along Illahee Road can get back to normal?” Bryan asked.
The out basket: After I last wrote about this on Feb. 29, I heard from Gary Natter and Kelly and Randy Ham, who wanted me to know that it’s not just those on the south side of the washout who must travel miles out of their way to get where they want to go.
The Ham’s tend the young children of daughter Jamie, and they live on opposite sides of the washout.
“What used to be a four-minute drive now takes about half an hour,” said another daughter, Kaitlyn.
Though Gary says his trip to work at Rolling Hills Golf Course has grown from five minutes to 15, his biggest concern, he said, is the extra time it will take fire and rescue vehicles to reach them now that the North Perry station has lost its direct access to north of the washout.
The county updated the work to repair the slide April 30, but the latest news on its Web site (www.kitsapgov.com/pw/roadwork.htm) suggests that the “over a year” rumor Bryan cites is a possibility.
The design of the repair remains at 70 percent complete, as it was in a March 31 update, evidently stopped while permits are awaited.
The county also has determined the county needs to acquire two pieces of right of way. One parcel is already owned by the county’s storm water management division, but the other, 1,164 square feet, is in private hands.
“How long the process takes has a lot do with the property owner’s response, availability, and acceptance of an offer from the county,” said Tina Nelson of the county engineering staff.
The owner knows of the county’s need for the property. If negotiations are trouble-free, the county could make an offer in May. If not, and a separate appraisal is needed, it could by three or four months before the county can even make its offer. But there is a legal process, called a Possession and Use Agreement, that could allow the county to use the 1,164 feet before a final dollar figure to acquire it is known and accepted.
The March 31 updates says, “There are several permits required for this project, being that we will be working in what is considered a fish-bearing stream….
“Some permits are contingent on each other, and it all starts with the SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) process. We are also required to follow NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) to receive our grant funding from (the Federal Highway Administration.)
SEPA is complete, the update says. The county needs a hydraulic permit from the state and upon getting that “we will submit to the Corps of Engineers for a nationwide permit. We anticipate this to happen in May.”
“As you can tell, there are several items that are not in our control as to when they will happen,” Tina said. “We are doing what we can to stay on top of our parts to get this project under construction as soon as possible. We have received notification that we are eligible for reimbursement from (Federal Highway Administration) at 86.5 per cent of the costs.”

License tab fees varied on her pickup and her Subaru

The in basket: Laura Logan read the April 9 Road Warrior about the state’s listing separately the $2 portion of license tab renewal fees to make the plates reflective, and said hers was $4.
She also said the fees for her 1989 Chevrolet pickup and her 2004 Subaru, which she had to pay only about a month apart this year, didn’t match. She had a 75 cent processing fee on the Subaru but not on the pickup, and a $58 gross weight fee on the truck but a basic $30 license fee then a $10 “weight-based” fee on the car. Why the discrepancy, she wondered.
The out basket: Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing said, “Trying to explain all of the special cases and exceptions (in the vehicle licensing fee structures) in even a general way would fill ten or twelve of your columns.”
But there are reasons for what Laura experienced, and he spelled them out as succinctly as he could.
First of all, the $2 fee for reflectorizing the plates is per plate, and since vehicles need two plates, it comes to $4.
“The 75-cent license services fee is collected on most vehicles, but not all,” Brad said. “State law exempts vehicles that pay registration based on gross
weight from this particular fee. This is why it is not charged on pickup trucks.
“There are two basic … fee structures. One is the standard basic license fee structure and the other is the
gross weight fee structure. Each vehicle is subject to one of these based on the type of vehicle it is or how it is registered.
“Passenger vehicles (includes SUVs) and motorcycles are subject to the $30 basic state licensing fee. The new weight-based fee is calculated on
scale weight, and is not considered a gross weight fee.
“Trucks and commercial vehicles are subject to gross weight registration
fees. This means the basic licensing fee paid by the owner is based on
the weight of the vehicle plus cargo capacity. They pay this fee instead
of the $30 basic state licensing fee.
“The general rule of thumb for
pickup trucks is that the gross weight is 150 percent of the vehicle’s
scale weight. So if a truck weights 4,000 pounds empty, the fees are
based on a gross weight of 6,000 pounds.
“When the Legislature imposed the new weight-based registration fees,
they added it on to the cost of the registration for passenger vehicles
and motorcycles so it is listed separately. For vehicle subject to gross
weight fees, it is included in the overall gross weight fee.
“Overall, the total licensing fees for passenger cars and pickup trucks
of similar weight are very similar,” Brad concluded.

Can you be fined for walking with traffic?

The in basket: Sharell Lee writes to say that her grandson and a friend, both in their early 20s, were stopped by a county sheriff’s deputy while walking with traffic on Riddell Road toward Highway 303 about 11:30 one night in late March.
“The officer said the violation was a $145 ticket (for each) for walking on the shoulder with, instead of against, oncoming traffic.”
The deputy didn’t write any tickets, though. He just warned the two.
“Can this be true?” Sharell asked. ” Can you really be ticketed just for walking?”
The out basket: Yes, you can, though I would think $124 is a more likely figure for the fine.
State law says this: “Where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking or
otherwise moving along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk
or move only on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing
traffic which may approach from the opposite direction and upon meeting
an oncoming vehicle shall move clear of the roadway.”
I’m not surprised that the deputy just warned them, as it’s generally thought to be just good advice, rather than a law with a penalty. And it’s most critical at night. One night recently I passed a pedestrian dressed all in dark clothing walking with traffic into Port Orchard on the shoulder of Highway 166 near the yacht club and I could barely see him. I didn’t see any news reports of a hit pedestrian in that area in the following days, so I guess he got away with it. But I probably would have cited him had I been a police officer that night.

Can you hide your VIN to stop car thieves?

The in basket: Charlie Michel of Bremerton says he’s been getting e-mail warnings about methods car thieves use, including copying a vehicle’s VIN, which is visible on the dash through the windshield, and applying to a dealership for what they claim is a replacement key. The e-mails advise taping over the VIN so it can’t be read. Is that legal, Charlie asked.
The out basket: It’s probably not legal, but the wording of the law makes that something short of a sure thing. And my law enforcement contacts seem to regard enforcement when one is protecting one’s car from theft as highly unlikely.
The applicable law says that anyone with a vehicle on which the manufacturer’s serial number “has been removed, defaced, covered, altered, or destroyed” is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, which is worse than an infraction and conceivably can draw jail time.
But the law specifies that removing, defacing, covering, etc is illegal if done “for the purpose of concealment or misrepresenting the identity of the said vehicle.”
If there is no question that you own the car, that sounds like it would be a piece of cake to show in court that your covering of the VIN did not violate the law.
That would beat a citation. But another law allows law enforcement to impound a car with the VIN hidden or defaced, presumably to sort out its ownership. That would be costly even if no charge was brought.
After one of her superiors told me covering the VIN is legal, Trooper Krista Hedstrom, information officer for the local State Patrol office, dug a little deeper and said, “Yes, a citation could be issued, but we use common sense and I could not imagine anyone actually writing someone (a citation) for this.    
“…Vehicle Identification Numbers can be used to generate a new key for many cars,” she added. “However, a person cannot simply walk into a dealership and have a key made. Responsible dealerships require proof of ownership (identification, registration, title, etc.) and some states have laws that require it.
“While there are some thieves who may use VIN’s to have keys illegally made, the use of Vehicle Identification Numbers for locating and recovering stolen cars has been far more valuable than hiding them.”
Deputy Scott Wilson, Krista’s counterpart with Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, said, “Our take on this is that if you have possession of a vehicle (whether
or not you actually own it doesn’t appear to apply here) and you cover
the VIN for the purpose of concealing the VIN, then you are in violation
of the law.
“The fact that a vehicle owner/operator is covering the VIN to prevent
someone from having a duplicate key made is something that will need to
be addressed by the court, if a driver is ever actually charged with this offense,” Scott said.
Their final answer, he said, is ” Leave the VINs alone.”

Keep kids under 13 in the back seat

The in basket: Georgann Thomas writes to say, “My grand-daughter will be visiting this summer. Can you please tell me what the law says about kids riding in the front seat? From what I can remember, it had something do about age and weight. My grand-daughter is 9 years old. There is a stiff fine, isn’t there?”
The out basket: Yes, and the information is available on the State Patrol Web site, www.wsp.wa.gov, under the FAQs heading.
Lt. Ken Noland of the Bremerton detachment sent along an excerpt, reading:
“Are children under the age of 13 required to ride in the back seat? 
Yes, the driver of a vehicle transporting a child who is under 13 years old shall transport the child in the back seat positions in the vehicle where it is practical to do so. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 12 are safer in the back seat regardless of the presence of a passenger side air bag.
When should I use a booster seat? 
Washington law requires a child who is less than 8 years of age or 4’9″ tall (which ever comes first) be properly restrained in a child booster seat when both lap and shoulder belts are available. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that booster seats, used in conjunction with lap/shoulder belts, be used until the child is 8 years old unless the child is 4’9”.
If you answer “NO” to any of the following questions, your child is safer in a booster seat:
1.  Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat? 
2. Does the child sit with hips all the way back against the auto seat? 
3. Is the lap belt on the top part of the thighs? 
4. Is the shoulder belt centered on the shoulder and chest? 
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?”
The fine for violating the child restraint law is $124, and the patrol pays a lot of attention to enforcing it.